The fashion industry is responsible for roughly 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 11.3 million tons of textile trash in the United States annually. So what’s a clothes horse to do? Not be fabulous? Capsule wardrobes—a trend touting the benefits of mixing and matching fewer pieces to form countless outfits—are gaining attention as ethical routes to versatile style. Even if you don’t want to pare down to a single pair of jeans, you can use tips from these local experts to shrink your closet’s carbon footprint.

1. A good capsule wardrobe only contains pieces you wear, says Sandi Mele, a personal stylist in Denver. To find them, sort your clothing into three piles: Keep, Toss, and Not Sure. Keepers return to your closet. Not Sures also stay (for now). Tosses head to the thrift store.

2. Examine the clothes in your Keep pile to identify your personal style. Do you gravitate toward neutrals or bright colors? Preppy button-downs? Breezy chiffon? Noticing these tendencies will help you differentiate between styles you live in and those you only like in theory, Mele says.

3. Welcome to the fun part: “Shop your closet,” says Reanne Chase, the co-founder of Denver fashion brand Gyidah, which puts its own spin on vintage items. Chase suggests spending an afternoon finding new ways to wear and accessorize the clothes you keep.

4. Consider gaps in your sartorial assemblage—are you missing a nice pair of slacks or a versatile little black dress?—but don’t lose sight of your lifestyle. Mele says a blazer may not be a good investment if you work from home and spend your spare time on the slopes.

How To Get Even More From Less

Hanging Out: Return your Not Sure pile to the closet with the hangers facing the wrong way, and only turn one back the right way if you wear the item. After a few months, any remaining backwards hangers will highlight the stuff you can jettison, Mele says.

At Capacity: Once you know what you love, you might be tempted to add more like it. Denverite Caroline Burnett, owner of online thrift shop Viola Lee Vintage, recommends following a one-for-one rule. “If I want to buy something,” she says, “I have to get rid of a piece I already own.”

Multiple Personalities: Don’t save your party dress for special occasions, says Meçlâ Soyer-Kaplan, owner of Denver label Meçlâ. Add accessories, like white sneakers or high-tops, to make fancy dresses casual.

Belt Of The Ball: All hail the belt—one of Burnett’s favorite accessories. “Tucking a baggy sweater in with a belt dramatically changes its look,” she says. “Or you can use it to cinch a loose dress or top, or even throw it over a blazer.”

New To You: Try getting items secondhand, says Dacy Luneberg, the co-founder of Gyidah, at Goodwill or Arc Thrift Stores. Or just replace doom-scrolling with browsing online resale shops, such as London-based Depop, one of the world’s largest peer-to-peer fashion websites.

This article was originally published in 5280 March 2022.
Angela Ufheil
Angela Ufheil
Angela Ufheil is a Denver-based journalist and 5280's former digital senior associate editor.